Laifang Li Receives Dean’s Award for Outstanding PhD Student Paper

May 6, 2014

Tim Lucas, 919-613-8084,

DURHAM, N.C. – Laifang Li, a 2014 doctoral graduate of Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment, has been named winner of this year’s Dean’s Award for Outstanding PhD Student Paper.

Li was honored for her entry, “Southeastern United States Summer Rainfall Framework and Its Implications for Seasonal Prediction,” which was published in the peer-reviewed journal Environmental Research Letters on Oct. 28, 2013.

Dean William L. Chameides announced the honor to the Nicholas School community on May 6. Li will be acknowledged at the school’s Recognition Ceremony for graduates and their families on Saturday, May 10.

She will receive a $3,000 check as this year’s winner.

Li’s research may help improve seasonal forecasts by providing a new statistical framework that meteorologists can use to predict the likely intensity of rainfall for the coming summer.

Summer rainfall in the southeastern United States is vitally important to the region’s agriculture, economy and ecology, she explains, but accurately forecasting how much rain may fall in an upcoming season can be tricky because of the complicated physical processes and environmental factors that determine its intensity.

“Using our new framework, we found that the characteristics of southeastern U.S. rainfall are influenced by multiple climate factors,” she says. “By identifying which of these climate factors or conditions is occurring, we can make more accurate rainfall intensity forecasts.”

Li developed the new statistical modeling framework with her doctoral advisor, Wenhong Li, assistant professor of climatology at the Nicholas School, who coauthored the study. 

Funding for their research came from a National Science Foundation grant (AGS-1147608).

The Nicholas School has presented the Dean’s Award for Outstanding PhD Student Paper annually since 2008 to recognize excellence in graduate student research.


CITATION: “Southeastern United States Summer Rainfall Framework and Its Implication for Seasonal Predictions,” by Laifang Li and Wenhong Li. Published Oct. 28, 2013, in Environmental Research Letters. DOI: 10.1088/1748-9326/8/4/044017.